Korea Shows It Can

Machine tool builders in Korea have been playing a catch-up game for the past decade. A review of current developments in machine tool technology indicates that Korea is rapidly pulling up with manufacturers in Japan, Europe and the United States. The products from Korea closely match their counterparts from other global suppliers in terms of capability and quality.


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Machine tool builders in Korea have been playing a catch-up game for the past decade. A review of current developments in machine tool technology indicates that Korea is rapidly pulling up with manufacturers in Japan, Europe and the United States. The products from Korea closely match their counterparts from other global suppliers in terms of capability and quality. Often, the Korean models represent an attractive value in terms of price and delivery. Korea's recent SIMTOS, the country's biennial machine tool show, confirmed the maturity of machine tool building in this country.

A brief look at some of these builders and at a few of their machines reveals this country's current level of technological achievement. Buyers ought to take note of Korea's growing reputation as a source of high-tech machine tools.

Wide Range Of Models

Hwacheon is the largest machine tool producer in Korea that is primarily devoted to machine tools. The company has an especially wide range of turning centers, vertical machining centers and CNC milling machines. A horizontal machining center is also in the lineup. Other machines include engine lathes, grinding machines and radial arm drill presses. Currently, the company is focusing on adapting standard models to specific industries. The features, options and accessories of special appeal to each of these target industries are prepackaged as an economical solution.

Hwacheon's U.S. offices are located in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills, where the company maintains its service, spare parts and engineering staffs plus a showroom. For the U.S. market, the company offers turning centers and machining centers.

New products to note: The Hi-Tech 250 series CNC lathe has as many as seven axes in simultaneous operation. This series is aimed at automotive and medical manufacturers, whose parts usually have turning and milling requirements where handling from lathe to mill is very costly. So the company designed this machine with multi-axis turning and three-axis milling so that parts can be completed in one setup, thus reducing time and labor. Difficult geometry such as compound angles can be achieved, the company claims. In addition, a very high speed and very accurate lathe, the Ultra Precision, reads in 50 millionths resolution and has a 10,000-rpm spindle. This model represents the leading edge of technology for lathes from Hwacheon.

For machining centers, the company offers 25,000 rpm spindles on all of its 40-taper machines and 12,000 rpm on 50-taper machines. With feed rates as high as 1,000 ipm and special speed-and-accuracy software to match, the company seeks to meet the most demanding milling needs.

Several machine tool builders in Korea have origins with the large manufacturing conglomerates and major automakers that dominate the industrial scene in that country.

Hyundai, the premier car company in Korea, is a major manufacturer of machine tools through its Machine Tools Group, which has U.S. offices in Mount Prospect, Illinois. The company builds and markets CNC lathes, and vertical and horizontal machining centers. In the past 2 or 3 years, Hyundai Motor Co. has made impressive inroads in the U.S. auto market by focusing on the needs of the American car buyer. A similar thrust into the U.S. machine tool market is underway in the machine tool division. For example, all U.S. machines are now available with Fanuc controls, which are widely accepted among U.S. buyers as standard equipment or as an option among U.S. buyers.

The company is coming on strong especially in the slant bed lathe segment. The HiTurn 250C is representative. This 12-inch lathe has a 23-inch swing over bed, with a 3.5-inch bar capacity and a turning length of 26.9 inches. The 30-hp spindle motor provides 30 –30,000 rpm.

The company's most advanced lathe is the new HiTurn-160M, a 6-inch lathe with turn/mill capabilities. This machine features a 12-station tool turret that accommodates live tools powered by a 3.7-hp motor. The Fanuc Oi-TA control unit provides CNC functionality and a PC interface.
Doosan's V 550T is a vertical CNC lathe with twin spindles, a configuration with inherent productivity advantages. 
Doosan-Korea is typical of the many corporate conglomerates with different divisions. Its annual sales volume is approximately $7 billion. The Doosan Machine Tool Division was established in 1967, and it entered the U. S. market in 1996. An independent company, Doosan Machinery USA, handled the importation, marketing, sales and service of these machine tools.

In November 2001, Doosan Korea announced that a new subsidiary company would be established in the United States for machine tool products. The new company became Doosan Machinery America, Inc.,  located in Sterling Heights, Michigan. It has the marketing/sales responsibilities for the North and South American markets. In February 2002, Doosan moved into a new 12,000-square-foot facility that has an extensive showroom with many model machines available for customer demonstrations. Doosan also carries a broad range of spare parts and provides service and application engineering from this new facility.

The company is promoting its wide range of lathes in this country. The single spindle lathe line covers a range of sizes, and the subspindle, four-axis turning centers show the company's depth in advanced turning technology. Also well developed are the Doosan vertical turning centers. The twin spindle models are especially noteworthy.

For milling, the company's many column and gantry type machines are complemented by two models of horizontal spindle machines. The graphite mill in the lineup features a 15,000-rpm spindle and dust control system.

Not Newcomers

Daewoo is the Korean company with the longest history as a marketer of machine tools in the United States, going back to 1976. Its offices are located in West Caldwell, New Jersey. Today, its line includes Puma and Lynx turning centers, the Diamond, Mynx and Ace machining centers in vertical and horizontal configurations, and integrated machining cells in the DMT Systems brand. DMT Systems also includes a line of inverted turning machines in single- and double-spindle configurations.

One of its newest lathes is the Lynx 200, a compact machine designed for the addition of both a gantry load/unload system and an automatic bar feeder. With this flexibility, one turning center can be loaded by chucking, bar feeding or gantry loading, depending on the type of workpiece and lot size. The appeal is to job shops reluctant to invest in dedicated equipment. This 10-hp single spindle, two-axis machine has an 8-inch chuck for parts as long as 12 inches. Another version offers a 12-hp spindle. The tool turret has 12 stations.

The newest machining center is the DMV500S, a VMC under the Diamond label. According to the builder, this is a machine intended for heavy cuts at high speeds. It handles workpieces up to 40.1 by 19.7 by 20.1 inches. Rapid traverse speeds are 1.181 ipm in X and Y, and 945 ipm in Z. The 35-hp spindle motor turns at speeds as high as 10,000 rpm.

KIA Heavy Industries (Hackensack, New Jersey) is also a company with a history of marketing machine tools in the United States. The company manufactures a series of CNC lathes (including inverted spindle types), vertical machining centers, a notable number of horizontal machining centers, cylindrical grinding machines, and large boring machines.

The company's SKT (Super Kia Turn) line includes several models with subspindles, automatic parts catchers, C-axis and live-tooling capability, and other features for high productivity. KIA's vertical machining centers offer features associated with high-end models such as rigid tapping, high torque spindle motors, coolant through the spindle, and isolated coolant tank to minimize thermal influences.

Names To Know

Tongil Heavy Industries (a major parts supplier to Korea's auto makers) is another builder with a wide range of machines, including machining centers, lathes (slant bed, twin spindle and vertical turning), machining centers (vertical and horizontal) and cylindrical grinders. Tongil produces a five-axis machining center, the TCH-80TS. This 50-taper machine has a 31.5 by 31.5-inch table and XYZ travels of 51.2 by 25.6 by 25.6 inches. Tongil's U.S. offices are in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Not all machine tool builders in Korea are large companies. Many of these smaller builders are eager to sell their machines in the United States. We can expect to see more and more of these smaller companies soon represented in the showrooms of U.S. distributors.

One of these newcomers is Hanwha, whose U.S. operations are based in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Currently, the company is marketing its line of Swiss-type lathes. The latest in this line is the SL20/26/32TP series, lathes with two subspindles and a total of nine controllable axes. These models, designed for turning difficult to machine materials, are equipped with heavy-duty spindle and subspindle motors. Tooling is especially flexible with a number of options for live tools to do front, back and OD work. Advanced controllers from a choice of suppliers provide the processing power for this complex machining.

On The Horizon

As economic conditions improve, the next challenge for Korean machine tool builders will be to develop their own design technology more fully, with less reliance on designs licensed or imitated from Japanese, European and American builders. It will require considerable investment in research and engineering. It will take patience, too. However, as these builders grow in maturity and sophistication, this level of capability will be well within their grasp.


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